Jeff Corda: On MALT and Preserving Agriculture
October 15, 2020
I’ve heard a lot of questions lately about how MALT handles easements and I wanted to share my experience and relationship with MALT. I hope this will put some of your minds at ease that your valuable donations are being used correctly.
I grew up on a small family dairy farm. I watched my grandparents and parents work very hard for little monetary gain. I started working at five years old for a dollar a day, washing calf pens out after school. A few years later, I received a raise to two dollars a day when I was able to feed the calves and wash their pens out. This job lasted until 1994 when my parents could no longer make money in the dairy industry without expanding the operation and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve infrastructure to keep up with expanding regulations. It still makes me sick to my stomach watching cattle trucks come in and seeing the look on my family members’ faces as we pushed the cows through makeshift panel corrals onto trucks headed out of county to provide someone else’s dairy with a quality product. Some will say that is just part of business, but to twelve-year-old me it was more than business, it was a life-changing event. Watching cow number 81, the one that we used to ride, loaded onto that truck hurt. Watching cow number 517 loaded on the truck, the one I raised as a calf and who would eat out of my hand into adulthood, was almost unbearable.
On March 31, 2007, my grandfather passed away and the ownership of our ranch went from a single person to a group. In order to keep our ranch in the family, my dad and his siblings decided to approach MALT. Let’s get this straight right now. I wish that we never had to put our ranch under an agricultural conservation easement with MALT. You are giving up a significant asset, your building rights, in order to obtain MALT funding. In a perfect world our ranch would be worth pennies and only have value to the people that put their blood, sweat and tears into the dirt. This is not the case and heirs have a right to what is left to them. So, we pushed forward with MALT funding. Our first appraisal from MALT came in and we started negotiating within the family. As anyone with family knows, this can be time-consuming and stressful. This also happened during the Great Recession and by the time we figured the numbers out on the family side, we had to get the land reappraised. The reappraisal came in lower, due to the economic climate at the time, but we had a deal in place with the family. I mention the reappraisal because MALT was not able to meet the price that they knew we needed to address our financial shortfall. In short, MALT staff did not give us the funding amount they knew our family was hoping for — but did what they had to do, something that was fair and right, based on what the independent appraisal showed. After some adjustments within the family, we were able to come to an agreement. My aunts and uncles would split the MALT funds, and my dad and mom would retain majority ownership of the ranch while my brother and I took out a loan to cover the decrease of the appraisal and then some.
When we started dealing with MALT as a landowner, I was very hesitant. I was unsure of how pushy they would be and if I could handle someone telling me what to do with my land. It has been about ten years dealing with the employees of MALT and this is what I have found out about them.
First off, they care about the land. They want landowners to try different techniques to improve agriculture but also the surrounding environment. They investigate the ranch yearly to make sure that you are following the rules and not doing anything detrimental to your property and the surrounding environment. They use common sense in reporting problems to the landowner while also coming up with sensible solutions.
Secondly, they care about agriculture. It is the Marin Agricultural Land Trust; this is not an open space district. This is about preserving agriculture. This is about trying to preserve a local food supply chain so that when the national food supply chain falters, the community will still be able to have some sort of supply chain. This pandemic has brought to light the fact that this can be one of the most important aspects of MALT.
Finally, they enjoy their work and who they work with. I have yet to meet with a MALT employee that is disgruntled. They enjoy their environment and preserving a way of life. They enjoy educating not only ranchers but donors on what they are saving, not in a boasting way but in a genuinely caring way. There is something refreshing about an individual getting excited about California Bunch Grass or a small scattering of Oregon oak trees.
In conclusion, I want to thank everyone that has donated to MALT. I will continue to work my ten hour shifts at work and come home and work on our ranch, paying off my loan and trying to save money so that my girls, nieces and nephews may have a chance to preserve this ranch for another generation. Also let’s make it clear that I am writing this not to ask for donations to MALT and I never got asked to write this. I just want you to be sure that the money that you have donated has gone to a good cause and something that is greatly appreciated.
Corda F Ranch
MALT-protected since 2011